An Irish Roadtrip Weekend In and Around County Sligo Experienced Through the Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats

Easkey Castle, County Sligo, Ireland
County Sligo in the West of Ireland is known as Yeats Country. This patch of coast along the Wild Atlantic Way features prominently in the poetry of W.B. Yeats who spent his childhood holidays in Sligo. We visited Sligo for a 3-day weekend in August. I thought I'd share my impressions of Sligo, one of the most remote parts of Ireland, through the lens of Yeats' poems.

On the Shores of Lough Key

We visited Lough Key in County Roscommon en route to Sligo. Yeats wrote of Lough Key in letters to Maud Gonne and described the majestic castle in the center of the lake as a Castle of Heroes. The idyllic scene feels like it could have inspired Yeats' In Memory of Major Robert Gregory.
Castle at Lough Key in County Roscommon, Ireland

From In Memory of Major Robert Gregory

When with the Galway foxhounds he would ride
From Castle Taylor to the Roxborough side
Or Esserkelly plain, few kept his pace;
At Mooneen he had leaped a place
I could hear a verse from The Wild Old Wicked Man as I stood in front of a row of red rowboats that seemed to be waiting for rowers to pick up the oars.
Red rowboats on Lough Key in County Roscommon, Ireland

From The Wild Old Wicked Man

Rower bent in his row-boat
Or weaver bent at his loom,
Horseman erect upon horseback
Or child hid in the womb.

Forest Walk at Lough Key

The forest near Lough Key in County Roscommon, Ireland
Lough Key Park represents one of the largest forests in Ireland. The visitor's center is filled with structured activities for families but we quickly left that behind and the forest trails enveloped us. I recommend reciting Yeats' Fragments while walking through the woods in Roscommon's Lough Key Forest Park.
Very tall tree in Lough Key Forest Park in County Roscommon, Ireland

From Fragments

Where got I that truth?
Out of a medium's mouth.
Out of nothing it came,
Out of the forest loam,
Out of dark night where lay
The crowns of Nineveh. 
Old stone bridge at Lough Key Forest Park in County Roscommon, Ireland
We passed an old stone bridge, nearly 200 years old, which later brought to mind Yeats' Meditations in Time of Civil War.

From Meditations in Time of Civil War

My House
An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower,
A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall,
An acre of stony ground,
Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,

Sligo's Lough Talt

Lough Talt in County Sligo, Ireland

Driving on, we finally set foot in County Sligo along the shores of Lough Talt. I recommend reciting a verse from Yeats' poem Ephemera as tiny waves invoked by the wind lap upon the shore.

From Ephemera

'Although our love is waning, let us stand
By the lone border of the lake once more,
Together in that hour of gentleness
When the poor tired child, passion, falls asleep.
How far away the stars seem, and how far
Is our first kiss, and ah, how old my heart!'

The Fishermen of Ballina in Northern County Mayo

Fisherman in the river at Ballina in Northern County Mayo, Ireland

Our next stop was Ballina in Northern County Mayo. Three fisherman standing patiently in the river brought to mind Yeats' The Fisherman.

From The Fisherman

In grey Connemara clothes
At dawn to cast his flies,
It's long since I began
To call up to the eyes
This wise and simple man.

The Majestic Tree at Mount Falcon

We spent a night at Mount Falcon Estate in Northern County Mayo in the far western reaches of Ireland. Strolling the grounds, a tree standing solo on the green carpeted landscape seemed to inspire Yeats' poem Vacilliation.
Lone tree at Mount Falcon Estate in County Mayo, Ireland

From Vacilliation

A tree there is that from its topmost bough
Is half all glittering flame and half all green
Abounding foliage moistened with the dew;
And half is half and yet is all the scene;

Shepherd for an Afternoon

Even though we took our walk around the grounds of Mount Falcon Estate in the evening, our encounter with three curious resident sheep brought to mind Yeats' The Hour Before Dawn.
Sheep at Mount Falcon Estate in County Mayo, Ireland

From The Hour Before Dawn

But for those mornings when I find
The lapwing at their foolish dies
And the sheep bleating at the wind
As when I also played the fool.

The Graveyard at Mount Falcon

We love exploring the grounds of old estates in Ireland. Mount Falcon Estate featured many charming relics including an old overgrown cemetery. Yeats' wrote quite a bit about death and dying. This scene seems to capture in a photo a verse from Tom O'Roughley.
Graveyard at Mount Falcon Estate in County Mayo, Ireland

From Tom O'Roughley

Could trumpeter Michael be so brave?'
Or something of that sort he said,
'And if my dearest friend were dead
I'd dance a measure on his grave.' 

Hawk Walk at Mount Falcon Estate

I've already discussed our amazing hawk walk in detail in my previous post. Even Yeats seemed to be in awe of falcons and falconers and wrote so in The Second Coming.
Falcon at Mount Falcon Estate in County Mayo, Ireland

From The Second Coming

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The Surprising Easkey River

We visited the town of Easkey not far from the coast in Sligo. The town was super sleepy with just a few shops and cafes along the main street. We stumbled upon an old ruined cemetery and stopped in to have a look around. We soon heard a roar behind the graveyard and emerged to discover a raging river driving toward the sea. The scene brought to mind Yeats' Fergus and the Druid.
Easkey River in County Sligo

From Fergus and the Druid

Fergus. I See my life go drifting like a river
From change to change; I have been many things

Sligo's Lonely Easkey Castle

Easkey Castle is a lone, ruined tower perched at the edge of the sea. I love how Yeats' To Be Carved on a Stone at Thoor Ballylee lovingly talks of restoring an old tower for his wife George. I imagine that this is the tower Yeats had in mind when he wrote this poem.
Easkey Castle in County Sligo

To Be Carved On A Stone At Thoor Ballylee

I, THE poet William Yeats,
With old mill boards and sea-green slates,
And smithy work from the Gort forge,
Restored this tower for my wife George;
And may these characters remain
When all is ruin once again. 

Sligo's Turbulent River Rapids

Driving toward Sligo Town, we passed another great river full of rapids and waterfalls. It was an idyllic scene that could have inspired Yeats' Toward Break of Day.
Turbulent river rapids and waterfalls in County Sligo, Ireland

From Towards Break of Day

I thought: 'There is a waterfall
Upon Ben Bulben side
That all my childhood counted dear;
Were I to travel far and wide
I could not find a thing so dear.'

The Passage Tomb at Carrowkeel

We drew closer and closer to Sligo Town. On the way, we stopped at Carrowkeel, a megalithic burial site situated on top of a steep hill. Carrowkeel most definitely could have inspired Yeats to write the words to the poem The Mountain Tomb.
Carrowkeel passage tomb in County Sligo, Ireland

From The Mountain Tomb

The cataract smokes upon the mountain side,
Our Father Rosicross is in his tomb.
Pull down the blinds, bring fiddle and clarionet
That there be no foot silent in the room

A Friendly Greeting at Mullaney Bros. in Sligo Town

Mullaney Bros in Sligo Town
We loved Sligo Town. This charming little place in the West of Ireland features old-fashioned store fronts beside more modern buildings. We were drawn into Mullaney Bros. and had a fantastic chat with one of the salesmen. He was super friendly and even recommended a few places to try for dinner. 
Mullaney Bros in Sligo Town
Mullaney Bros in Sligo Town

From Paudeen

INDIGNANT at the fumbling wits, the obscure spite
Of our old paudeen in his shop, I stumbled blind
Among the stones and thorn-trees, under morning light;

Dinner at Hargadon Bros. in Sligo Town

We went to Hargadon Bros. for dinner in Sligo Town. A craft beer and plate of curry and rice really hit the spot. We even indugled in a side of onion rings deep fried to perfection. It pays to heed local recommendations. In this case, yer man from Mullaney Bros. was spot on. Even Yeats references the allure of the pub in his poetry. Here's a quote from The Pilgrim.
Hargadon Bros in Sligo Town

From The Pilgrim

Now I am in the public-house and lean upon the wall,
So come in rags or come in silk, in cloak or country shawl,
And come with learned lovers or with what men you may,

The Ass on the Hill

Driving around Glencar Lough we spotted this donkey against a picturesque green mountainous backdrop. The ass brought to mind Yeats' poem titled Colonel Martin.
Donkey on a hill in County Sligo, Ireland

From Colonel Martin

The Colonel said to Tom his man,
'Harness an ass and cart,
Carry the gold about the town,
Throw it in every patt.'

Bales of Hay

Throughout the countryside around County Sligo, we were greeted by farm after farm situated on rolling green hills.These bales of hay seem to typify the experience. Yeats' The Wanderings of Oisin: Book III seems to be the perfect poem to read while standing here among the fresh mown hay.
Bales of Hay in County Sligo, Ireland

From The Wanderings Of Oisin: Book III

Till, fattening the winds of the morning, an odour of new-mown hay
Came, and my forehead fell low, and my tears like berries fell down;
Later a sound came, half lost in the sound of a shore far away,
From the great grass-barnacle calling, and later the shore-weeds brown.

Glencar Waterfall at the Border of County Leitrim

Glencar Lough in County Sligo, Ireland

Glencar Lough straddles County Sligo and County Leitrim. Glencar Waterfall is positively stunning and is one of the scenic gems of County Leitrim. Yeats actually mentions Glencar by name in his poem The Stolen Child.
Glencar waterfall in County Leitrim, Ireland

From The Stolen Child

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,

Yeats Grave - Are You Content?

We stopped at Drumcliff in County Sligo to pay our respects to Yeats at his grave. In life, Yeats foreshadowed what would happen upon his death and references the cemetery at Drumcliff in his poem Are You Content?
W.B. Yeats Grave at Drumcliff in County Sligo, Ireland

From Are You Content?

To judge what I have done.
Have I, that put it into words,
Spoilt what old loins have sent?
Eyes spiritualised by death can judge,
I cannot, but I am not content.
He that in Sligo at Drumcliff
Set up the old stone Cross,

Hiking Around Carrowmore Near Sligo Town

Carrowmore is one of the most extensive megalithic burial sites in Ireland with a variety of ritual stones and dolmens spread out over the countryside. The site just outside of Sligo Town is well worth a visit. We even got to meet a beautiful pony who enjoys the view of the dolmens nearby. Yeats' The Statues seems to best capture the feeling of this place.
Horse near Carrowmore Megalithic Burial Site in County Sligo, Ireland
Dolmen at Carrowmore megalithic burial site in County Sligo, Ireland

From The Statues

We Irish, born into that ancient sect
But thrown upon this filthy modern tide
And by its formless spawning fury wrecked,
Climb to our proper dark, that we may trace
The lineaments of a plummet-measured face.

Lough Gill and Parke's Castle - The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Grass growing from Lough Gill in County Sligo, Ireland

Yeats is perhaps most famous for his poem The Lake Isle of Innisfree. We made it to the shores of Lough Gill and spotted Innisfree in the distance. The weather was so rough that day that we didn't brave the ferry crossing to the island. Instead, we toured Parke's Castle (well worth the hour long guided tour) for a knowledgeable reckoning of the history of both the castle and this part of County Leitrim.
Rough waters of Lough Gill in Ireland

From The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Monkeys at the Sligo Airport Market

Our final stop on our road trip to County Sligo was the Sunday Airport Farmers Market. Stop by and experience local crafts, foods, and music. Proving that you can find a Yeats' poem for every occasion, I chose A Statesman's Holiday to describe the scene.
Sock monkeys at the craft market at Sligo Airport

From The Statesman's Holiday

With a monkey on a chain,
With a great cock's feather,
With an old foul tune.
There you have it, a long weekend in and around County Sligo in the West of Ireland seen through the lens of Ireland's most famous poet, W.B. Yeats. When in Yeats Country, nothing but a bit of poetry will do as a soundtrack for the trip.


Useful Links about Yeats and Visiting Sligo

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Sidewalk Safari: An Irish Roadtrip Weekend In and Around County Sligo Experienced Through the Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats
An Irish Roadtrip Weekend In and Around County Sligo Experienced Through the Life and Poetry of W.B. Yeats
Explore Sligo, Ireland (aka Yeats Country) and discover the poetry of W.B. Yeats in the process. A photo-rich blog post by Dublin-based travel blogger, Jennifer (aka Dr. J) from Sidewalk Safari.
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Sidewalk Safari
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